Among sushi connoisseurs, the culinary herb, shiso has become well known. In English it’s referred to as the perilla leaf or beefsteak plant. According to my cookbook, the shiso is a member of the mint family, however, from a taste perspective, I think it should belong to the basil family.
There are two varieties of shiso; the green or ao-jiso and the red, aka-jiso. The former is used in many dishes such as sushi, sashimi, salads, and can even be deep fried in a tempura batter. Traditionally, the later is usually used when making Japanese pickles such as umeboshi and shibazuke, both red from the leaf.
Living in the US, green shiso is only found at Asian specialty shops and can get pricey for just a few leaves. But they do add a wonderfully clean plum taste to salads. Our sushi man wrapped raw squid with shiso and fish roe with nori. The combination was absolutely delicious!
Here where I live, the red shiso seems to be more readily available. If you’re lucky you may be able to find a few potted plants at your local nursery. For those with a green thumb, you can grow them yourself. You can get shiso seeds from Johnny’s Selected Seeds, click here. Locally, my girlfriend and I found a bunch of red shiso leaves at a Vietnamese grocer in the International District. They used the leaves in their raw spring rolls – yum! Although the Japanese mainly used the green shiso in salads, I’ve used the red shiso and find you can use it in exchange with Thai red basil leaves.
Dried shiso is also used to make onigiri, rice balls. The red leaves are dried and chopped finely into flakes and is sold under the name yukari, ゆかり. Here is a picture.
To make shiso onigiri, sprinkle the yukari onto hot rice and mix well. Shape into little balls or triangles using saran wrap. You can click here to see my video on How to Make an Onigiri. Shiso’s tart plum flavor is a good palete cleanser and is known to help increase appetite during the hot muggy summer months.